I didn’t know how things could possibly get worse for Colorado Republicans after their disastrous showing in the 2018 midterms, but I guess I underestimated them.
All it took was a bad case of recall fever — no vaccinations, remember, for these guys — and before you knew it, the Neville branch of the GOP was teaming up with Dudley Brown and his Rocky Mountain Gun Owners to try to recall Representative Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was among the victims of the Aurora theater shooting.
And why are they are trying to recall him? This is where it gets really crazy. Because Sullivan, whose son’s death spurred him to run for the legislature, sponsored the red-flag bill that now allows judges to temporarily take guns from the hands of those who are deemed a likely danger to themselves or those around them.
This was no surprise to anyone. This is what Sullivan campaigned on. This is a bill that might have saved Alex’s life. This was a bill Sullivan sponsored in Alex’s name.
And this is the person they want to recall.
Recalls should be used sparingly, if at all — for malfeasance or, sure, for misleading voters. Elections, they tell us again and again, have consequences. You don’t recall someone because a red-flag bill makes you see red. And not, if you have any political skills whatsoever, for use against a person for whom the law in question is a righteous cause, pursued in his son’s memory.
And yet they come for Sullivan in the days after the twentieth anniversary of Columbine. They come for him after tens of thousands of children had to miss school because a young woman who flew here from Florida was “infatuated” with Columbine and was able to buy a long gun not far from the school. She used that gun to take her own life and not to kill others. But it was not long before the mass shooting at the STEM school, and still they come for Sullivan, who wanted nothing more than to save the lives of other people’s children.
As Sullivan told me Tuesday, “I knocked on 9,000 doors personally, and each person I talked to, I told them I would push for an extreme risk protection order.” He ran on the red-flag bill. As a veteran, he ran on veterans’ rights. He ran on victim notification. He ran on mental health parity, which, he said, he assumed everyone would back because if they don’t believe that guns are the issue in mass shootings, then they have to believe that it’s a mental health issue.
And for keeping his word, for doing exactly what he promised to do, Kristi Burton Brown, the vice chair of the state Republican Party and an ally of the Neville family, launched the recall effort, saying she would welcome Dudley Brown’s help. This would be same Dudley Brown who trashed the last holder of Sullivan’s seat — the Republican Cole Wist, who had bravely backed a previous version of the red-flag bill.
Kristi Burton Brown said she was not involved in the recall as a party official, but as a citizen, which, of course, does not pass the laugh test. And I know a lot of Republicans can’t stand Dudley Brown or his group of what should be called Rocky Mountain Gun Nuts, and we’re hearing from Republican strategists who are stunned by this move. But we’re still waiting for Republican legislators to step forward and condemn this move.
Wist condemned it, tweeting this: “I was in denial. Until yesterday. Last year, state GOP leadership failed to speak up to defend me when RMGO carpet bombed my house district with negative flyers. Now, these same leaders pledge to work with RMGO to take out my successor in a recall. I do not support this effort.”
Oh, and then this: “It is unfortunate but crystal clear. RMGO owns the Colorado Republican Party.”
As you probably know, this is not the first recall attempt in this season. There was a petition to recall Rochelle Galindo, who resigned her office after allegations of sexual assault were leveled against her. She denies the allegations, which are sealed and are being investigated by Greeley police. A Democratic committee will pick a successor.
From there, the recall movement moved to Sullivan.
”I try not to take things personally,” he told me over the phone. “But since the day Alex died, it’s all personal to me. I tell people that since that day, I think differently, I act differently. When I see that they’re trying to recall me, I know they would like me to go away. It makes people uncomfortable to see me every day.
“I watched the ceremonies for the twentieth anniversary of Columbine, and I thought, ‘I’m seeing my future.’ You come out for the anniversaries, the first, the fifth, the twentieth. This is the reality for the families who have lost people to gun violence. But I’m not going anywhere.”
I don’t know if they’ll collect enough signatures for a recall. I don’t know if the big money that was backing the Galindo recall effort will find its way to a recall against the father of a son who was killed in a mass shooting.
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But I know how Sullivan sees it. As he said, he takes it personally.
”This is a message from the Colorado Republican Party,” he said. “They say the vice-chair was doing it as a private citizen in my district, but they could have gotten anyone. They’ve been against me from the beginning. I know who pulled the trigger (at the Aurora theater), but I also know who empowers people to do that.”
If Sullivan is wrong and Wist is wrong, we should be hearing from Republican office-holders — already in short supply — brave enough to say so. Ken Buck, the new state chair, told the Colorado Springs Gazette, “We will evaluate the HD 37 recall as it proceeds, just as we do with any potential recall or election.” That’s just the kind of bravery I expected.
This column originally appeared in the Colorado Independent.